By Elizabeth Burke
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report
Thank God it’s over for now. The past year of disgusting displays of racism, gay bashing, Hitler comparisons and general bad behavior can now be put to rest. HR3590 — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as the healthcare reform bill at the forefront of President Obama’s campaign and agenda — passed late last night with an almost totally partisan vote of 219-212. I am grateful, happy and reassured that the Obama Administration can bring about change. Yes, we can!
Now, after one of the nastiest years in memory, we can move on to the critical work of job creation, economy building, ending the war in Iraq, banking reform — except no, we can’t!
After a year of town hall meetings, back and forth discussions between the GOP and Democrats, debates, more town hall “discussions,” screaming mobs, more debates, the live viewing of Obama’s healthcare “summit” — and, after reading the GOP’s own pamphlet on healthcare reform — one would think every rock has been turned over, everything that needed to be said has been said and we can move on.
Not with these sore losers. There will be no going gentle into this good night. Their fists are clenched, their jaws are jutting outward in outrage and angry old men like Sen. John McCain (is he anything but angry these days?) made news this morning with these two loathsome, pathetic statements: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year” and “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”
Sen. McCain, what are you talking about? Democracy worked, votes were taken and your side lost, fair and square. So now you’re going to take your toys and go home? I thought we lived in a democracy where the votes are counted and the side with the majority of votes wins. Isn’t that how it worked from 2000 to 2008?
This kind of anger is childish, un-American and, frankly, has the rancid stink of totalitarianism clinging to it. Do what I say or you will pay! As of this morning, 11 state attorneys general are gearing up to sue the federal government. Within minutes of the healthcare bill passing, there were threats to repeal it. Really? How, exactly, will Republicans frame this for their constituents? “We’re going to reopen the “doughnut hole” in Medicaid coverage and charge Grandma on that fixed income more for her prescription drugs”? Or, “We’re going to make sure your kids cannot be insured with your medical plan — we want insurance companies to take away your insurance because you had the nerve to actually get sick”?
In the insurance business, this latter strike at common decency is known as rescission. Now, what kind of person thinks it’s okay to repeal a law preventing insurers from rescinding policies for those with preexisting conditions? I simply do not have the words to explain such mean-spirited, purely politically motivated actions.
The reality is that healthcare reform is long overdue. The GOP had years, especially since 1994, to come up with a great plan that would have their stamp on it. But no, they were too busy doing nothing in the ’90s and then on to the next decade, screwing up Iraq, allowing Iran to actually develop WMDs and completely neglecting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. They could have actually addressed spiraling healthcare costs, but since all those Republicans get Cadillac-care at low direct costs with their government-run health insurance, why make any changes? Their government-run healthcare (yes, it’s worth writing twice) seem to work just fine for them, so why fix what isn’t broken?
- Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday.
- Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions
- No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage
- Free preventative care for all
- Adults with pre-existing conditions may buy into a national high-risk pool until the exchanges come online. While these will not be cheap, they’re still better than total exclusion and get some benefit from a wider pool of insureds.
- Small businesses will be entitled to a tax credit for 2009 and 2010, which could be as much as 50% of what they pay for employees’ health insurance.
- The “donut hole” closes for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.
- Requirement that all insurers must post their balance sheets on the Internet and fully disclose administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments.
- Authorizes early funding of community health centers in all 50 states (Bernie Sanders’ amendment). Community health centers provide primary, dental and vision services to people in the community, based on a sliding scale for payment according to ability to pay.
- AND no more rescissions. Effective immediately, you can’t lose your insurance because you get sick.
I especially appreciate number 8. Not that I trust these companies to actually be honest, but it’s a start. Some major provisions of the bill would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, including the part where 95% Americans will be required to have healthcare. By 2014, the law will require individuals to maintain minimal healthcare coverage. A penalty will be imposed for failure to maintain such coverage with exceptions for low-income individuals, members of Indian tribes and people who object on religious grounds. Penalties will start at $95 or 0.5% of income, going to 1% of income by 2015.
Beginning in 2014, new exchanges will open up the marketplace for private insurance policies for millions of new customers. How exactly will that drive insurance companies out of business?
Of course there is the talk of cost. But the cost of doing nothing is so much higher. This reform bill is preferable to doing nothing and I know about nothing: last year, I wrote of my own struggle without health insurance. I wrote of working full time as a freelancer, paying my way and paying my taxes and going without coverage. I am not poor, nor am I rich; I am middle class. Yet I could not afford even the leanest catastrophic coverage. I am in direct defiance to those ignorant animals screaming “Get a job!” I have a job — and so do millions of those who either cannot afford insurance or lose when they lose their jobs. I have a new full-time job now with full benefits in a great company working with people I really like. For that I am supremely grateful, but I will never forget the past eight years when I lived in fear of illness while pursuing the work that I loved. So, say what you will: the passage of this necessary, forward-thinking bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation I will see in my lifetime.
Mark my words: the passage of HR 3590 will be right up there with the passage of Social Security, Medicare and the Civil Rights Act. Those bills also brought out the basest of behavior, the cruelest of comparisons, the arguments of cost, and yet there is not one person, especially not one politician, who would dare to change one word in those laws now. HR 3590 will continue to make the U.S. one of the beacons of democracy and social justice in the world.
Elizabeth Burke, a New York-based actor, has been involved in politics since her first campaign at age 16. Burke’s Law does not necessarily represent the views of The Clyde Fitch Report.